Prof. Tunde Adeniran, a former Education Minister and one time Ambassador to Germany, is the National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). A former Head of Department of Political Science at the University of Ibadan and erstwhile staff of the United Nations, in this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, he speaks on various challenges before the recently appointed Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, the need for good governance and Nigeria after the COVID-19 pandemic
How is your party, the Social Democratic Party preparing for the Ondo and Edo governorship elections?
We believe that both Edo and Ondo state governorship elections are very important, just as the national election itself. This is because if we must have good governance in the country, it begins at the local level, goes to the state before the national and this is why we have been making preparations to ensure that our people participate.
What we have been doing is to encourage our members to contest the elections. Once they are convinced that they are good materials and have the capacity to govern the states, we push them forward for the elections. The parties are not there just to field candidates for the elections but to mobilise people and ensure that they participate in the political process.
One issue that has featured in public discussions in recent times is the need for some political parties to consider a merger in order to form a formidable front in the elections. Is the SDP considering this?
It is a very rational position to take. It is the way to go actually because we have too many parties, even though the freedom of choice should be maintained. That is why we believe that some parties should come together and or party is very interested in that but we are not interested in parties coming together for the sake of it. We believe parties should come together based on ideology, based on philosophy that are mutually acceptable, that the parties believe in as guiding principles.
If you look at the manifestoes of the various parties, the manifesto of the SDP is the most ideological of them all because we believe in certain irreducible minimum conditions of governance for the political process to really serve the people the way it should. So we are working in that same direction and expect and hope that at the end of the day the parties we are discussing with will come and work closely with us and we will get to where we need to go. This is because Nigeria is in dire need of that party that is focused, that will be based on ideology and that is people oriented.
You mentioned that you are discussing with some political parties. How many of them, giving the fact that we have about 15 or so other parties besides the major three?
So far, we are talking with about seven, we have not completed our discussions. We are still talking.
It has been observed that opposition parties hardly make a good showing in stand-alone elections, as was in the case of Kogi and Osun states. Of particular interest was Kogi, where you candidate, Natasha Akpoti was brutalizsd. What difference will you make this time?
As I told you earlier, when you look at the situation, for instance, what happened in Kogi State, was that our candidate was not only harassed, but we were rigged out. It was that clear that most of the votes in the state were meant for the SDP. But with the intimidation, harassment and eventual rigging and violence that took place, it was a very shameful exercise.
It is unfortunate that we are retrogressing in our political process. We are not making progress at all. What happened in Kogi State, the violence, arson and murder were enough to discourage people, but we are no discouraged. Because we believe that that is why we have to keep on the struggle and make sure that the gangsters in politics are subdued by the power of the people. Because the more Nigerians realize that they have a long way to go and at the end of it all, I believe that we are going to overcome. The forces of progress will certainly overcome in this country.
We cannot shy away from the forthcoming Edo and Ondo elections because we had that experience in Kogi. No. In Kogi State, we went into the election because we had a good material in Natasha Akpoti, a very courageous, determined and patriotic Nigerian. She worked very had and made sure the party was going to win there, but the way the forces were used there against our party an candidate led to the outcome we had. But we are not going to relent because we believe we have to savage democracy, we have to savage this nation. When we are convinced that we have that kind of material in Edo and Ondo elections, we will go ahead. We are not giving up, but working hard in national interest and for the sake of humanity.
How would you reflect on the use of force in the elections as was the case in the general elections, Kogi, Osun and others? Do you think security agencies are helping matters?
The security agencies need a new orientation. There is need for overhaul of the security agencies to ensure that people get their priorities right. They should know that their allegiance is not to those of us who are in politics. Their allegiance, loyalty and services should be to protect the Nigerian nation and the Nigerian people, not transient holders of power.
They should realise that the peace of the land, the progress of the land will come readily and they themselves will enjoy being Nigerians when they do the right thing by protecting the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and serving the Nigerian people, and not those in power. By ensuring that the power given to them, the authority at their disposal is used not to defeat the purpose of constitutional activities but to promote it, to defend the people and to ensure that democracy is consolidated.
How do you see the appointment of Prof. Ibrahim Gambari as the new Chief of Staff to the President and what impact do you expect him to make in the current administration?
First of all, I personally want to congratulate the President for making that type of choice. And looking around, I have the feeling that he could not have made a better choice in terms of what I know about Prof. Gambari, because he had a very rich background in terms of intellectual preparation; in terms of knowledge of internal workings of governance, in terms of experience in governmental processes and more importantly the type of network required to make a success of that office.
You need someone who is not only firmly rooted in the knowledge of the political processes in the country, you also need someone with some degree of exposure. But in his own case, he has an expansive exposure, he has worldwide connections within the Nigerian nation itself; within the West African sub-region, within African region and worldwide.
When you talk about those who will be relating with that office from outside the country, international organisations, diplomats, you can’t at this time get a better person for that office. He is a fantastic choice and I expect him to perform well, particularly in the area of human relations and he is also passionate about issues affecting this country.
So what bite do you expect him to make on Nigeria’s foreign policy focus and its implementation?
You know that foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy, hence I expect him to give proper advice in the areas that things are not right domestically, that correction should be made in areas that have led to “disenchantment” among Nigerians in relation to governance and the way things are going and correct the past. And when it gets to international level, he has been very conversant with that terrain because before his current appointment, he was very involved with African Pear Review Mechanism, and with that relationship he can locate Nigeria’s place in the and correctly advise the President.
Internationally, the UN has been his abode for many decades, either when he was representing Nigeria or when he was there as Under-Secretary General. At the international level, no living Nigeria had had a broader knowledge, experience and exposure at that level than Prof. Gambari.
One matter that has caused disenchantment is the lopsidedness of President Buhari’s appointments. Recently, the constitution of the board of Federal Character Commission and even distribution of palliatives were tilted towards the North. Do you see him making a difference in this regard?
Well, I believe that the President will have a better advice now more than before, and the new Chief of Staff is someone who would be able to draw his attention to this. We are in a federation and there should be justice and equity. And then whether in the distribution of benefits and in whatever areas, the federal character provision in the constitution is not there just for decoration. It supposed to be followed in its entirety and these are area.
He is a Nigerian himself. He must have been reading all the various protestations and criticisms in the newspapers over the years. I believe he will not fail to right the wrongs and being someone who is very meticulous, he will be able to collate those issues and advise the President accordingly.
He is also expected to relate with those who execute the policy directives and to really advise them properly to do the right thing. And he should add value to what the President is doing, add value to the administration and be positive in projecting the administration and the only way he can do this is to do the right thing. He must also appreciate the fact that this is a federation and every Nigerian deserves the right to be treated equally.
And on this palliatives thing, the way to do it is to do the right thing, not cutting corners, work to the answer, but the effective and spread it throughout the federation. People should be able to see that they are doing the right thing and not assume that all Nigerians are fools. They should make Nigerians love themselves and not create enmity among Nigerians. They should do things to unite Nigerians and not to separate us.
As a former Education Minister, what do you make of these recurrent ASUU strikes and how do you think this can be handled and stopped?
My personal position has never changed, since my involvement in the leadership of ASUU in the 80s, I believe universities should be granted full autonomy. When you do that, when there is an issue at the University of Calabar, it would not affect what is going on in University of Ilorin. It should be possible for universities in Lagos, Kaduna or Calabar to attract faculty members who could be paid more than what obtains in some other universities in the country.
So this regimented uniform system is not god for the development of our universities. They should work in such an environment that will promote competition among them, make sure that they shine, and be able to compete for grants for research, local and international, but the current situation where you give the impression, like the Yorubas say, whether the boss sells or not, the porter must get his pay, is not helpful. However, when you challenge them, and say ‘we are the proprietor of this university,’ give them the resources you have and let them decide how to run the university, without interfering in its affairs.
In the past, we succeeded in democratizing the system of selecting Vice Chancellors in the individual universities themselves. But when they now have full autonomy, that they have to get certain things done, they will be able to attract people from outside. If you look at it properly, you will discover that some of these universities have become village universities. They are localising virtually everything, but if they are granted autonomy and they know that they need resources to work successfully, they will look outside to attract people who will be able to raise funds for them, personalities who will be able to attracts grants to them, and would not simply standby, waiting for government allocations and when they want to go on strike they do so by passing circular round the universities.
Do you believe our education sector deserves a state of emergency, regarding infrastructure, research, curriculum development and its relevant to the labour marketand national development?
I share that the education sector is in need of such a declaration, and not just declaring it verbally but taking steps that will really lead to its overhaul. So that you now get a situation where all the teaching and non-teaching staff are well motivated and encouraged to perform the way they should.
What you see now where students come out of the universities and you ask yourself whether some of them actually passed through a secondary school and passed the SSSCE, is appalling. Because the degree they claim they have is not worth the paper on which it is written. It is unfortunate. We have those who are not just unemployed but are unemployable because you cannot put them somewhere and see any evidence of the knowledge they have acquired. That is not good for the country, hence I ask for total overhaul.
What is your impression about the current efforts to control the spread of Coronavirus?
I believe a lot of efforts are being made. It may not be even at the state level, but what we need to do is to make sure that we get Nigerians to buy fully into it. And there are three ways of doing this. One is that the publicity is good so far but must be intensified so that people will appreciate the fact that they are not doing it for anybody, government or any institution but for themselves. They should take it as their own problem.
The second area is that the government should do what it is doing differently. Look at the palliatives they are distributing. No matter what they are doing, if it does not spread across the country, it will not achieve its intended purpose. This habit of distributing money around when you are preaching social distancing is crude.
How many people are you going to gather and distribute the cash to when you know the banks can do this effectively, taking cognizance of their account balances? The BVN thing will also help government a lot in this regard. After that you can handle those without bank accounts differently. And those operating our system should be creative enough to design the model to reach at least 90 per cent of these people, whereas the current system only enables government to reach about 30 per cent of the target – the poorest of the poor.
The thirdly one is the need for government, private citizens and corporate organisations to intensify the efforts in the area of research. This idea of going to Madagascar, or Morocco is unnecessary because, for goodness sake, Nigeria has the best reservoir of scientists in Africa. When you moblise these scientists and fund them you will see wonders. If you give then the encouragement they need other countries will be coming to Nigeria for solution, and when you take it to another level by linking up with Nigerian scientists in the Diaspora, and they collaborate, you will see what will happen. Nigeria will then be the port of call to most of the nations. America, Japan, China, UK will be looking toward Nigeria because God endowed us with not just material resources but also human resources, but we don’t seem to appreciate them.
In this area, what do you think the government and corporate organisations should be doing with Nigerian institute for Pharmaceutical Research, (NIPRD), our universities and the likes of Prof. Maurice Iwu of the Bioresources Development Group (BDG), respecting researches into vaccines for COVID-19?
I commend what the Central Bank is doing by offering grants in this regards and will want the government to also go a little more to support what is going on in the area of research. Of course the private sector too must also plough some of their profits into that area. The pharmaceutical companies should be encouraged.
People do not appreciate what Prof. Maurice Iwu is doing because they don’t appreciate his background other than the public office he held before. They do not understand the fact that this man has worked in very strategic and sensitive organisations abroad in this regard as a Professor of Pharmacognosy and what he is giving out now is one of the outcome of his researches which were supported by some international organisations.
I’m aware that Prof. Moris Iwu has developed vaccines like IHP Detox Tea made from three edible plants that contain substances that inhibit the replication of the virus. Another one from his stable is Andrographolide and one of its identified components is a well known molecule, and there are many publications on mode of action. It inhibits the replication of SARS Coronavirus, but curious enough, he has not been encouraged. If you support people like these, support teaching hospitals and pharmaceutical research institutes, it will go a long way it the search for solution for to virus and more. And we should not look at things just like a crash programme like we are facing now.
Looking at Nigeria after COVID-19, what lessons should we learn regarding our health sector, economy and social security?
The government should enlarge its economic management team to cover all sectors immediately. They should not allow situations to catch us like this. Rather they should be anticipating issues and be proactive. They should have vision. Visionary leadership helps nations to avoid catastrophe and to go in the progressive direction rather than having to now react to situations when they occur.